After inspecting 13 bases - including Utah's Hill Air Force Base - the Air Force concluded earlier this year that it is not complying with federal pollution and hazardous waste laws and is threatening human health and the environment.
A March 9 Air Force Audit Agency report, obtained by the Deseret News through a Freedom of Information Act request, estimated that the Air Force will have to spend $3.3 billion and take 25 years to clean up hazardous waste sites at bases nationwide as required by federal laws.Meanwhile, it said its programs to prevent and control new pollution - not just clean up old messes - also do not meet federal standards.
While the report did not list problems individually found at each base, Deborah S. Berry, Hill's environmental public affairs coordinator, said, "Only about 50 percent of those write-ups were found at Hill. And since that audit, these have been corrected or are in the process of being corrected."
She added, "Hazardous waste problems didn't happen overnight and will take some time to correct."
An idea of some of the specific cleanup problems Hill faces is found in a separate document updating to Congress the Defense Department's efforts to clean up its environmental problems.
They include confirmed soil and groundwater contamination at Hill by metals, fuel products and volatile organic compounds - including two contaminant plumes under landfills and an oil slick below a pond. That report to Congress adds, "golf course irrigation may be driving contaminant migration."
Some of the specific findings of the report, which did not say exactly which bases suffered what problems, include:
- Eight of 13 bases had hazardous waste labeling deficiencies, 10 of 13 did not properly store hazardous waste, nine of 13 had poor security in hazardous waste areas and 10 of 13 had spill containment barriers that were inadequate. Berry said hazardous waste management was an area in which Hill had problems at the time of inspection.
- Problems with environmental planning included that while all 13 bases had spill prevention plans, 11 of them were incomplete; all 13 had hazardous waste management plans, but seven were incomplete; and 12 of 13 had not developed hazardous waste reduction plans.
- The 13 bases had received 165 notices of violation from federal, state and local regulatory agencies - and 46 of the violations had not been corrected or resolved at the time of the audit.
- Twelve of 13 bases had compiled an inventory of underground storage tanks, but only four bases had a plan for controlling leaks. One base had a tank that leaked an estimated 15,000 gallons of jet fuel into the surrounding area - and off-base contamination was suspect from migration of contaminants.
- Eleven of 13 bases had an inventory of volatile organic compound sources, but only four bases had plans to control or eliminate their emissions.
The report concluded, "The numerous violations pose a continuing threat to human health and the environment and subject the Air Force to potential fines, lawsuits, expensive cleanup actions and adverse publicity."
It also assessed blame.
"The problems occurred because Air Force policy was too general to provide adequate guidance to environmental personnel, and too few personnel were assigned to environmental management activities."
The report also said environmental efforts "will be expensive, and solutions to some problems will be longterm." It said the Department of Defense has estimated all military cleanup efforts will cost $11 billion and take 25 years. "The Air Force portion of that effort is estimated at $3.3 billion."
Berry noted that Hill and the Air Force are working hard to clean up and reduce hazardous wastes and has established and staffed a program to help oversee it - of which she is part.
Among the procedures Hill has come up with in that effort include using "plastic bead blasting" to strip paint from F-4s and F-16s. That process eliminates 25,000 gallons of wastewater contaminated with chemical strippers for each aircraft, and generates only 1,500 pounds of dry paint residue.
Another was developing a special plating process to coat aluminum aircraft parts, which eliminates using hazardous cadmium plating chemicals.